SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE: LETTING FREEDOM RING

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SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE:  LETTING FREEDOM RING

I have featured this pair of amazing sisters in two previous posts after their annual visits to my home.  (Swheat Girls Part One and Two, July 2017 & July 2018).  They bring their families every Independence Day week from their homes in the Phoenix area.  I treasure their visits; we have maintained contact since 1984.  Tana and Amy began as the girls I babysat in the summers; now they are the women I am lucky to call my lifelong friends.  

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This year, they told me they used to spend the weekends sitting in their rooms on the farm, bored until I returned Monday morning.  They couldn’t understand why I felt I needed the weekend off.  That’s many miles bridged from the rough beginning I chronicled last year when I insulted their cat in our first ten minutes together.  After that introduction, they were set on running me off, just like they had with all the others.

Except they didn’t.  And I didn’t leave, either.  We made it through the bumpy beginning, and the sailing just gets smoother every year.

 

 

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My stomach muscles hurt—in a good way—from laughing so much last week.  If laughter is indeed good medicine, then I should be in perfect health.  And, if I should ever need to get more of this good medicine in the future, all I need is a big dose of this picture:

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The bugs were formidable, but we found a way to avoid them.  And, in their usual form, these two find a way around obstacles—simply sip your drink through the straw through the net.  They’ve always figured out a solution to whatever comes their way.

Those early days on the farm were revisited with reverie and stories, recalling their youthful demeanor,

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Which hasn’t changed much in all these years.

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We enjoyed all our usual activities:  puzzling

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Yard games,

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Cooking, baking and grilling—followed by overeating.

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We took a little trip to Tana’s college town,

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the same college their parents met at, and the same college that honors their grandfather–their mother’s father.

 

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We swam in our backyard redneck pool,

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and in our neighbor’s real-deal pool.

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A fireworks display was offered courtesy of my son and a friend,

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followed by Tana’s karaoke rendition of Kansas’s own Martina McBride singing “Independence Day” the morning after Independence Day.  The flyswatter was handy for obvious reasons, so it became her microphone.  She’s always good at improvising when the circumstances may not be perfect.  Her voice is that of another talented Kansas wheat farm girl.

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Being the swheat girls they are, they took a trip to their family farm to enjoy the harvest.

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As a joke, I offered this garage sale find to Amy; she wasted no time putting it to use.  She says it’s the greatest treasure I have ever given her, and she plans to hand it down to her children as a family heirloom one day.  I planned to use it in an art project, but clearly, it belongs with her. 

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Proof she is truly a swheat girl

This year, we added yoga to the mix.  They, too, enjoy a good yoga workout, and since my teacher lives just down the road, she agreed to come over on the morning of the Fourth for some porch yoga.  She led us from the corner of the porch; the rest of the yoga-goers wrapped around the back porch. 

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If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then these pictures should be worth many thousands of words, so I won’t write much more.  They tell the stories of the fun and laughter we shared last week.  Hopefully, I have made it quite clear that we felt free to exercise our independence this week, and throughout the other fifty-one as well. 

Tana and Amy have been constants for each other; they have no other siblings.  Through births and deaths, divorces and disappointments, they are sisters through thin and thick.   They know liberty because they earned it, and they honor it as the gift it is every day, not just on Independence Day.

I hope you find that well of liberty within, because it is a gift to be opened for each and every one of us, every day of the year.

Have fun, and laugh while you are doing it.  It truly is the best medicine.

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THE SUNFLOWER STATE

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THE SUNFLOWER STATE

Because one should never miss an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons, I decided to celebrate our fine state when life handed me Kansas instead of Colorado.

Every Labor Day weekend since 2010, I have savored the Rocky Mountain majesty of Cripple Creek, Colorado.  Minus Suzanne last year, she and Gail have done the same.  This year, however, duty called Gail and Suzanne—and family festivities called as well.  It was not meant to be.

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A throwback picture from our Labor Day 2014 trip.

Soon, however, it will be meant to be.  And I will tell you about it in a future post—at least, what we want you to know about it.  We never tell all.

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Every Labor Day when I return to Kansas after savoring the natural beauty of Colorado, I return to savor one of the many natural beauties of Kansas:  sunflowers in full bloom.

As well as living up to its title as The Wheat State, Kansas is also known as The Sunflower State.  It is our state flower, and it is simply and timelessly beautiful.

Mom loved sunflowers.  I have always liked sunflowers, but in an effort to further a small part of her larger-than-life legacy, I grew to love them after she was gone.  I keep them in artificial form in my home throughout the year.

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And, I gather a bouquet of fresh-picked ones and bring them indoors every Labor Day weekend.

IMG_20180902_172507692.jpg I preach about them, too.  If you grew up in Kansas and were hammered with Kansas history every January 29th in grade school to observe Kansas’s birthday—we celebrate our statehood since its inception as a state in 1861—you’d better be able to tell me why I am wearing a gaudy sunflower pin every year on that date.

No excuses if you are a native.  Know your Kansas history, or get out of my way.

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Suzanne will confirm that I am a purveyor of useless, but (sometimes) interesting information, so I won’t disappoint her today.  I wanted to know more about sunflowers and why they are our state flower, and here is what I found:

*The sunflower was made the official state flower in 1903 after a lawmaker observed many people wearing them to identify themselves as Kansans.  George Morehouse is the one to thank for that.

*Less than a decade before that, it was declared a noxious weed, and other lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to eradicate it.

*It was chosen as a state symbol to represent our frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, as well as our bright past and future.

*Sunflowers grow in the wild, in planned gardens, and as a crop.

*They can grow up to nine feet tall.

*Sunflower oil is a valuable resource from the plant as a crop, and the seeds are enjoyed as a snack food, as well as in breads and salads.

*True to their name, the cultivated sunflower  typically turns to face the sun, mostly before they are in full bloom.  Because I am a word nerd as well, I want you to know this is known as heliotropism.  Wild sunflowers face in all directions.

Our dad planted sunflowers for a few years, but he apparently deemed it not as successful as he had hoped.

In the wild, sunflowers grow in large bunches,

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small bunches, or they may grow in single plants.

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Any way they grow, they are simply beautiful.

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While we are on a roll here with important Kansas information, let me share more of The Sunflower State’s vital official details:

The Ornate Box Turtle is the state reptile, and just in time for this post, one made a guest appearance in my neighbor’s yard this morning.

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“Ad Astra Per Aspera” is our state motto.  “To The Stars Through Difficulty,” is the translation from Latin.  Along with the sunflower, it is featured on our state flag:

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We had many cottonwood trees on our farm, leaving me with warm memories of the soft cotton floating through the air in the summer time.  It is no surprise that this tree is our state tree.

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The Western Meadowlark is the state bird.  It is also the state bird of Nebraska and Wyoming.

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So there you have it.  You are all prepared to celebrate Kansas’ 158th birthday next January 29th.  You’re welcome.

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I have a love/hate/love relationship with Kansas, and love always wins.  I love that this state has been our lifelong home, with my exception of a semester of college on an exchange program in New Mexico, and a year–less one day–of suburban Philadelphia as a nanny.  Gail, Suzanne and I spent our first 18 years in the same farmhouse, and we treasure that heritage.  We grew up on a farm, learning the Midwestern farm work ethic, values and morals.  We weren’t exposed to crime or drugs, just rock-and-roll.

I hate the winters—now.  As kids, we enjoyed frequent afternoon-long sledding expeditions in the hilly pastures behind our farmhouse.  The snow came up to our waists at times, and the drifts could bury us if we weren’t careful.

We loved it, but we rarely get snow like that anymore in these parts.

Now, just when I think the interminable winter—without beautiful snow– is going to bleed my soul into complete and irreversible dehydration with its icy and windy gray-ness, the beautiful green leaves appear on the trees, and I know I have survived one more year.

I love the summer heat.  June, July and August are my three favorite things about Kansas.  I’m not even kidding.  Bring on the 100-degree plus temps.  I savor them.

Call me crazy.  Go ahead.  I know you want to.

Now that it is September, those three glorious attributes are behind me once again.  Even if the temperatures exceed 100 degrees in September—which they sometimes do, it’s not the same.  I know it’s time for fall to arrive, and I won’t be fooled.

And, to confirm that I am indeed crazy, I don’t even like fall.  Just bring on the freezing temperatures already, and get it over with.  Don’t jack around with these “beautiful” 80-degree days in October.  Give me sub-freezing weather.  I like the extremes.

But so does Suzanne, so if you call me crazy, you have to call her crazy, too. She loves the extreme temperatures.  Again, because I love trivial information, I want to enlighten you with this fact from weather.com:  among our 50 states, Kansas ranks 31st in temperature ranges.  A range of 161 degrees has been documented, all the way up to 121 degrees, and down to 40 below.  I would have guessed we would be closer to #1 than #50.   Hawaii is #1, ranging from an unexpected twelve degrees, up to 100 degrees, and Montana is #50, ranging from a balmy 117 degrees, down to minus 70.

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Log on here to get more (useless, but interesting ) information.

As much as it pains me to write this, I have to reiterate that both Gail and Suzanne love the Kansas wind (Weather Girls, January 28th).   I hate the wind. Detest it. Loathe it.  Am I making myself clear?

The name Kansas comes from the Native American Kansa tribe of the Sioux.  Ironically, it means people of the south wind.  Go figure.

One thing we all agree on without a doubt:  we love Kansas because (most of) our family is here.  We love being close to all of them.

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Kansas has a bad rap for being “fly-over” country; best observed from above at 30,000 feet-plus.  We know this is the impression, but we disagree.

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I picked this up last weekend on our getaway.  Along with several other stickers, I put it on my new computer.  Might as well laugh along with them, because the joke is on them.

Our sunsets offer unparalleled beauty.  We’ll put them up against any other state’s sunsets, even this one my family saw on the beach last month.

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Sorry, Florida.  I love you and your sunsets, but we’ve got you beat. 

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Any Kansas girl who has ever traveled out of state and let on that she was from Kansas has had to endure the worn-out and not-even-funny Dorothy jokes.  I fought that in New Mexico and Pennsylvania.  The joker always thinks they are the one who came up with it, and it is funny only to them.  I know several women named Dorothy who are actually from Kansas, and they have had more than their share, I’m sure.

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Greater than the summer heat and the splendid sunsets, I love Kansas for one simple reason:  it is home.  Home is in one’s heart, and Kansas is in ours.  And, just like Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

 

A gift from Gail to me.  Its home is in a chair in Fort Kathleen, my favorite all-my-own space in my home (A Space of Her Own, October 15th).

 

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Suzanne and I spent the afternoon together today.  We longed to be together with Gail in Colorado, but it wasn’t meant to be.  So we turned the lemons into sunflowers.   Her shirt was a complete coincidence; no hidden messages to be inferred.  You can think what you like about my headwear.  

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DEDICATED TO MOM AND CARLY.  I KNOW THAT FOR THEM, HEAVEN IS FILLED WITH SUNFLOWERS.

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Thanks to my friend Gwenna Reich for this picture, the photographer extraordinaire.  

AFTER HARVEST

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AFTER HARVEST

Night and Day.  Black and White.  All or nothing.  Abundance and Lack.

Sometimes it is one extreme, often it is somewhere in between.  As an adolescent in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I was sensitive—overly sensitive, as I see now—to the whole abundance and lack thing.  In my young mind, it was simply one or the other.  Plenty or scarcity.  Usually never just enough-which is what we always had.

Looking back now, I see that it was always enough, and, seeing it with my adult eyes, I view it now as plenty.  But I didn’t see it then.

Like so many things in life, it is rarely black or white.  It is usually an undetermined shade of gray.

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I went to the farm last weekend to partake of the annual wheat harvest on my family farm.  My two farming brothers had just got harvest into full swing, and I was able make the trip on the day they began.   Gail and Suzanne were not able to join me, so I went solo.  I would have preferred to have their company, but this did not deter me from making the trip.  I have only missed one in my entire life, and I was living far away from The Wheat State that year.  Mom sent me a card with several heads of wheat in it, in her usual thoughtful style.  I wrote more about that last year in Swheat Girls (July 2nd), and I could go on about that and so much more surrounding harvest, but that much was already written, so I will bring you the new.

I arrived in the field in the mid –afternoon hours and found both brothers across the road from each other in their respective fields; in their respective behemoth harvesting machines—both of them red, of course.

I found Ryan making his rounds (squares?) on this side of the road, so I jumped in the combine for the required ride.

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It was dusty, dirty and windy, and just as last year, I loved it.  I got dirty, although not as dirty as I’d hoped, because it was overcast, and not sunny, not hot and still as it was last year.  I didn’t get as sweaty as I wanted to either, but I tried.  That is part of the experience, you know.  The sweat, the dirt, the wheat dust.  Bring it on—at least on to me. It’s not quite as fulfilling without it, but I took what I could get, just as every farmer does out of his wheatfield.

Suzanne and I getting dirty and dusty in last year’s wheat field.

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Last year’s wheat dust hung lazily in the air with no wind to scatter it.

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A ride to the elevator is in order; as it’s not a complete harvest trip without it.  My younger brother had a load ready, and we labored down the dusty dirt roads with the full semi-trailer behind.

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Waiting for our turn at the elevator.  The moisture sensor takes a sample on the truck in front of us, measuring the moisture content on each load.  This matters in the end, as too much moisture gets a big red mark on your wheat’s report card, followed by a dock in your payment.

The trip back to the field was faster, lighter and a bit more urgent, as the wheat was waiting.  Waiting to be cut, augered into the grain cart and then into the semi again for a repeat trip to the elevator.

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I got it all in within a matter of a few hours.  I was fulfilled.  The trip was quick, but I got the job done.  The next day, it rained.  My timing was perfect.  The rain was welcome, with more to come later that week.  Even though it interrupted harvest, it was welcomed because of the dry conditions.

So it is not yet after harvest on the farm; it is still during harvest, even with the interruption.

After harvest, in the sense I am writing about, comes not after the last load of wheat is cut and hauled.  It comes after the final reckoning, after the farmer’s balance sheet is tallied to see where on the abundance/lack spectrum the numbers fell.  The numbers are black and white, and the results can differ from the expectations by as much as night to day; all or nothing.

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In the time period from the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, the American farm economy was in crisis.  The interest rates were at record highs, while the prices for grain were at record lows due to record production.

I remember Dad saying “The farmer is the only businessman who doesn’t get to set his own prices for his products.”  And, like most everything else Dad spoke, was so true.

The 1980 grain embargo against the Soviet Union brought exports to a record low, while farm debt for land and equipment rose to a record high.  Many farmers were unable to make their payments, so their farms were foreclosed upon, including several in our small farming community.  The auction block was the formidable potential enemy for so many Midwestern farmers during this time.

I know most farmers were worried about their own finances during this time, including our Dad.  I could hear it in the things he said, and as a sensitive kid, I could feel it, too.  He was worried, and so was I.

In the end, our farm survived.  It still does.

And so does my tendency to feel a sense of lack.  Those impressions made in childhood die hard.   In the face of my own relative prosperity now, my relative abundance compared to that of my childhood, the darkness of lack still lingers sometimes, still haunts me with thoughts of what if it’s not enough?

I know now I have power over that darkness, like so many others I have conquered.  Realizing our own strength is always the first step.

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If I wanted an extra material something as a child, something that was not a necessity or a need such as an extra pair of shoes, or perhaps a Barbie doll, I would bring that request to my parents.    If it was close to harvest, my answer from them would always be “We’ll see after harvest.”  After harvest –in my young mind–became code for it will either be abundance or lack, so we will see which one it is.  Black or white.  All or nothing.  Night or day.

Gail and Suzanne recall the same answer.  We all heard the same answer:  “After harvest.”

At least, that’s what the girls in our family heard.

The girls were inside during harvest, primarily preparing the many elaborate meals for the harvesters.  Dad and our brothers were the farmers, and they worked morning to dark—and as late into the night as the wheat straw allowed.  It becomes tough as night falls, and harvesting is no longer possible.

Suzanne and I reminisced yesterday about all three of us helping Mom prepare a full-on feast to be taken to the field.  A feast no different than the ones she normally cooked and served in the kitchen around our large table of nine.  A hot meat-and-potatoes meal complete with bread—sometimes homemade—and vegetables, and likely a dessert.  We prepared it as usual, then loaded it up and took it to the field.  The tailgate of the pickup was the dining table, and we raced to get to one of the two wheel hubs in the box to sit on, as these were prime seats.   We savored it with them as they took a short break, then came home to clean up the pots, pans and plates, and get ready to do it all over again.

In the spirit of Waste Not, Want Not (January 14th), Gail recalled that we saved our sugar sacks, as they were heavier, and somewhat insulated.  Dad would pack his only thermos full of coffee when he took off for the field, and we would pack a refill of coffee in a recycled mayonnaise jar, tucked inside of the sugar sack to keep it warm.   In another sugar sack, we packed another recycled mayonnaise jar of cold water to refill his water jug.  Small coolers were essentially non-existent, as were insulated bottles that are everywhere now.

Gail reports she still saves her sugar sacks.  Mine go in the recycling crate.  If you recall from The Baker, The Long-John Maker–and Suzanne (December 3rd), Suzanne doesn’t bake, so I don’t think she even purchases sugar by the bag.

These honorable duties were our jobs as girls; the boys helped Dad.

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One of our brothers made a surprise visit to our small city for dinner last night.  He and his wife decided to make the 80 mile trip from Wichita to have dinner with Suzanne and me.  We welcomed the gathering, as usual.  Good thing he treated us, because after dinner, while chatting at Suzanne’s place, the truth came out:

We asked him about his memories of the “after harvest” determination, and apparently, there was a double standard.  His memory was that during harvest, not after, Dad would discuss the “harvest wages” with the boys.   This apparently meant there would most certainly be some small, extra token of appreciation for their efforts.  David’s only recollection of what any of those annual tokens were was a new fishing pole.

If you know our family, you can imagine the good-natured banter that took place at that point.  A strong sense of humor prevailed between us three siblings, as it typically does between all of us.  We know, just as we always did, that fairness and equity among their seven children was the rule.

 

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David lived in our small city for a time, and the iconic pizza restaurant was a hit for us all .

We can choose to live with a mindset of abundance, or we can choose to believe in scarcity and lack.  We get to decide.  It doesn’t matter what your house or your car or your bank account look like, the truth resides in your mind.  It is a choice.

And, having chosen to believe in both extremes at various points in my life, I can tell you that choosing a mindset of abundance is always the best choice.

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May all your harvests be abundant, and never stop separating the wheat from the chaff.  

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My hometown lost another legend last week.  The mother of a dear friend passed away after a long and blessed life of 84 years.  She mothered six children, one of whom passed before her.

She was a wife and mother, an artist, a master gardener, a knowledgeable and compassionate nurse who was called upon to be the small-town doctor at times.  She leaves a legend behind of all these things, which I will always remember her for.

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Tracy and her dear Mother Mary.

I remember her for other things, too.  She always laughed and smiled, no matter what her circumstances.  She laughed through sadness and illness, which were no strangers to her.  I lived with Tracy—one of her four daughters—in college, and she came to our college town for extended cancer treatment.  She stayed with us during this time, witnessing me coming in too late, even for a college girl.  She laughed at this the next morning, in her usual style.  I got to know her on a new and deeper level, now more as an adult than a child, which had been my relationship with her before college.

May her smile and laughter live in our memories forever.

 

 

 

 

GIVE THANKS

 

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THANK YOU

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”    Meister Eckhart

Our country celebrated my favorite holiday last week.  I celebrated with my husband’s family on Thursday, and my family on Saturday.  I try to celebrate it alone every day. I try to find small and large things to be grateful for.  Some days, I know I don’t try hard enough.  When I give it my best, I get the best in return.

I find more peace.  More joy.  More awareness of so many more things I need to be grateful for.  More awareness of how rich life can be when I focus on the good.

I am now grateful for things that used to drag me down.  Like the seemingly endless stretch of Interstate 70 that leads to Gail’s house:

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I drove this hundred mile stretch several hundred times on my way from my current small city to an even smaller city during my graduate school days:

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If I try just a little harder, I can find so many beautiful sights along the way to be thankful for.  Out of respect for Gail and Suzanne’s love of the wind,  I have come to appreciate–only a little more– the reason why Kansas has so many of these:

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An hour past my alma mater town, this gem on the plains is the hometown of both of my in-laws.  They were married in this church that stands as a tall beacon on the prairie skyline, and all four of my husband’s grandparents were laid to rest behind the church.  A dear friend’s parents are buried there as well.   In an unlikely coincidence, my mom’s father was born there at home, but didn’t live there long as a child.

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As I age, I am more thankful that I was born and raised a Kansas farm girl.  While my family trusted only the red tractors, combines and other machinery, the green ones are fixtures on the Kansas plains.  My husband’s brother-in-law recently retired from a long and storied career with the green tractor company, so I have to respect them too.  Only if you were raised on a farm would you understand the ongoing debate/argument over which tractor is better:  red or green?  Either one will adequately harvest the current corn crop, which, in the last 10 years, is becoming a bigger cash crop in Kansas.

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So, just when I think I can no longer tolerate the monotony of the flat western Kansas landscape, the road to Gail’s house takes a surprise twist:  hills!

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Then, about ten minutes later, we have arrived.  Over the plains and through the hills, to Gail’s house we go.24058991_1925613150786933_3385765566210426815_n[1]

Gail and Suzanne are busy cooking; Suzanne and her family arrived last night.

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Anyone in the kitchen is expected to lend a hand.

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This is Gail’s time to shine, it is the pinnacle of the year–in family terms–for her.  I think that’s why it’s my favorite too.  Three of our four brothers, their wives and most of their offspring were there as well.   If Gail is in charge, it’s gonna be good.

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And it was.

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Our new tradition is to take a picture in Camp Gail, just like we did last year.

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After duplicating that picture, we decided to try to duplicate this one, with a slight modification to reflect the fact that we are all fifteen years older than when this picture was taken:

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It didn’t turn out so well:

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Still, we tried.  And we will keep on trying to have all the fun we possibly can.   I am so thankful for that.

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I have long been thankful for Kansas sunsets, perhaps the most recognized natural wonder of The Wheat State.

Happy Thanksgiving every day from the three Kansas  wheat farm girls of the Sister Lode.